Bugs (part 2): I Do That Freak-out Dance

This is part 2 of a three part series of posts on bugs.  Click here to read other posts in this series.

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I’m not a fan of bugs, by which I mean that I would have nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with them that doesn’t involve the underside of my shoe or a folded newspaper or so much wadded-up toilet paper or tissue that I can be sure not to feel the crunch and squish as I press down. But here we are in August, the one season of the year in which the creepy crawlies, spiders in particular, make their presence clearly known. Starting in the forgotten corners, the under sides of things they threaten to take over. Gaining confidence they stretch their webs across frequently used doorways and drop on me unbidden as I walk or write in the park. Oh, how they must delight in watching the strange freaked-out dance their webs evoke every. single. time.

I’m not a fan, but my children are and for months now there’s been an endless parade of crickets and caterpillars, moths and butterflies, rollup bugs and ants, ladybugs too, in and (mostly) out of my house. And oh, the cicadas. At first the empty, crusty, crunchy shells seemed a novelty, a prize to be found and collected hanging on the bark of a tree or laying on the sidewalk as we passed. It was cute to see their excitement as they hung them on their clothes like a rare beastly broach. But now, oh God, we cannot pass without picking them up, collecting, not just the shells, but the bugs too, the shiny silvery bodies making a stark contrast to the dull brown discarded casings.

These, the casings, my children pile onto the back of the jogging stroller, behind the sunshade where they inevitably get lost in the folds as I heave it into the back of the van. And then, days later when I get the stroller out and unfold it with a bit of force to get it to snap into place, those same bugs and their shells come flying, crackling out at me, evoking again the same freak-out dance that arises intuitively, a dance I’m certain can be traced back through the lines of evolution to the very first people who stumbled across the very first spider’s web.

It’s August and the bugs are invading my every waking moment including the books that we read, since the children’s librarian so nicely (sarcasm here) directed my children to the place where the bug books reside. So now I sit, morning noon and night, holding down my breakfast or lunch or dinner as I read about the mating and birthing and eating habits of the insect world all the while staring at incredible, nightmare-inducing close-ups of every body part I didn’t want to know about.

Deep sigh. Here’s the thing – they’re beginning to speak to me too. And I’m starting to listen, starting to pull up my chair to watch as they perform their own dance of living and birthing and dying all the while joining their song to the on-going song of creation.

Bugs (part 1): A Spider Speaks

This is the first in a three part series of posts on bugs, which have ended up being a suprisingly big part of my summer. 

For the past five days our older kids, six and four, have set up their little plastic Adirondack chairs down on the sidewalk near our neighbor’s house, right in front of her flowering purple salvia bush.  The bush sits at the bottom of her garden looking like a large flowering octopus, its tentacles waving in the breeze.  It hums with bumblebees, swooping and stopping to seek and drink from its dainty, purple flower-cups. 
My children’s chairs are set up there, every morning, like matching lazy-boys in front of a TV.  What they’re watching is a spider – a grotesquely large, beautifully black and yellow garden spider that my son discovered this past Saturday morning while my husband and I rushed in and out of the house setting up for a yard sale. 
This spider, and the others bugs they’ve found this summer, have given my son a new lease on life (as though he needed one at four and a half).  Every morning, as soon as he’s awake enough to remember, he dresses himself and runs out the front door to “check on the spider” or caterpillar or whatever else they’ve managed to collect in their odd assortment of baby food jars and Tupperware. 
After learning that the spider remakes her web each night, my son made plans to wake up as early as he could and wake his sister too so they could catch the spider in her own little glorious act of creation.  When this failed to work, he and his sister declared over dinner one night that they would have to become nocturnal. 
They watch the spider, their interest in her dwarfing their fear of the bees buzzing round her webby home.  They feed her rollup bugs painstakingly captured from beneath our own purple-flowered cat-nip bush.  My son loads his t-shirt pocket with several bugs and stands in front of the web, perfecting his pitching arm as he works at flinging the live bugs into the spider’s net.  They come running, thrilled and shouting into the house after watching the spider wrap-up one that landed, pitch-perfect in the web.  They describe how the spider tucked it away for a midnight meal then returned to her roost sitting on the zig-zagging line of silk that runs through the middle of her web. 
I wonder what that spider is telling them that they so desperately need to hear?  What is so important that they tune-in to her channel every morning with the same faithfulness with which I check facebook and email and my parents before me checked the evening news? 

Ten Tips for taking TWO babies to the Doctor (by yourself)

What are you, crazy?  Common sense should tell you to make every effort to avoid taking two babies to the Doctor by yourself.  But, should your other two children fall ill, thus requiring quarantine and throwing a wrench in your carefully laid plans involving one adult to go with you and one adult to stay with aforementioned older children, proceed with the tips below . . .  

1. Dress as you would for an athletic event.

Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.  Short sleeves are recommended.  

It will inevitably be cold in the Dr’s office, but once they pack you, your two children, their car seats, a 10 lb diaper bag, a nurse and a Dr into the closet-sized exam room, it will start to warm up.  When both children’s crying reaches a fevered pitch the simultaneous effort of jiggling one in your arms, rocking the other in their seat with your foot, and straining to listen to the Dr’s droning questions and advice will cause even the coolest parent to break into a sweat.

2. Dress your children in one layer of one-piece clothes. 

This isn't the time to pull out the stops with cute three-piece outfits, matching socks, shoes, etc. No one wants to wait for you to wrestle them back into that adorable outfit while they’re screaming after receiving shots in both legs! 

3. Bring a blanket for each baby.   

You, as a reasonably responsible parent, would never leave your child undressed in a 65 degree room under any circumstances.  But the first thing you’ll be asked to do is to strip your child down.  You’ll then wait for 15-20 minutes with two near-naked babies.  The purpose of  this is to prevent the Dr from having to wait the 2 minutes it might take you to undress your child.  (Although, in my experience, the 5 or so minutes the Dr usually takes to figure out how to use their newly acquired laptop would be a perfect opportunity to undress baby while avoiding exposure.) 

So bring a blanket to wrap your baby in.  Even though you’ve been explicitly TOLD to leave your baby undressed you will feel like the worst parent ever sitting there with a tiny freezing infant.  Fortunately the stress of this will cause your own body temperature to rise helping to raise the temperature of the aforementioned freezing room.

4. Regardless of your political views, be thankful that the government is now paying the co-pay for your well-visits. 

Not spending ten minutes at the check-in window rooting for your wallet which is inevitably at the bottom of your diaper bag will save precious pre-meltdown minutes, as well as money.

5. Strike a balance between “responsible and capable parent of multiples” and “slightly overwhelmed and pitiable parent of twins.” 

Casually let it be known that the only reason you dared approach a well-visit single-handed is because your house has been hit by a tsunami of illness, yet you prevailed to make it to the appointment bearing a child in each exhausted arm like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  Absorb any pity, praise or help that comes your way in response to your “situation.”  

6. Nurse or bottle-feed one baby while the Dr examines the other. 

Not because they’re hungry or food solves everything, but because it greatly increases the likelihood that at least one baby will spit up all over the Dr.  This can be highly amusing, especially if it happens to directly coincide with one of the Dr’s off-handed comments about how big/small/pale/ or otherwise unattractive your baby’s head/ears/nose, etc. are. 

7. NEVER ask unnecessary curious questions. 

Throughout the appointment the Dr will repeatedly ask if you have any questions.  This is code for, “Can we keep moving along and get this over with as quickly as possible.” BUT, a new parent might accidentally mistake this to mean, “Are you observant enough as a parent to be able to formulate educated questions about your child’s development?”  This misinterpretation may lead the parent, in an effort to show their concern and deep knowledge of baby development, to throw out a random question about an issue that you already know isn’t SERIOUS, but none-the-less find interesting. 

“So, is his fontanel still supposed to be so big?” 

“Is there any reason to worry about that small rashy spot on his neck?” 

While such questions may seem harmless when brainstorming with your spouse pre-appointment, actually raising them is a mistake.  These questions are like bait for Drs who’re tired and bored from seeing hour after hour of relatively healthy children. 

At best, your Doctor will seize onto your question and launch into a five to ten minute explanation of the development of the fontanel from zygot to adolescent while you are frantically trying to calm, soothe, feed, or change two crying babies.  In a worst case scenario, the asker of such a question will find themselves carting two healthy, exhausted, crying babies off to one or another lab for extensive blood work, x-rays or “testing” just to “make sure it isn’t anything.” 

Trust me, this is a path you don’t want to start down. 

8. Try to keep a straight face when the Dr asks you things like, “Do you wipe their gums with a washcloth every day?”  

Refrain from responding sarcastically, “Lady, I’m lucky if I brush my own teeth everyday.”  Simply nod your head and smile, “Oh yes, the gums, we do that several times a day.  We’re very big on infant gum care.” 

9. When you finally leave the office with two crying babies, hold your head high

(though your back may be bent from the combined weight of babies, car seats and diaper bag). 

Smile graciously at the parents struggling to calm, carry or coax their own children.  Accept their looks of wide-eyed wonder at your parental prowess as you use alternating infant seats to bump open heavy doors and waddle with tiny penguin steps to your mini-van. 

You and your glowing off-spring have conquered yet another office visit. 

10. Schedule your next visit for two to three months from now and begin immediately aligning a support team (and two or three back-up support teams) so that you will never, ever, have to do this by yourself again.

Losing It

Seems like so many people I know, Mom's in particular, are feeling close to the edge these days.  Maybe it's the change of seasons, the impending change of schedules, change of wardrobes, one more mind-numbing round of pulling bins in and out of tiny spaces, sorting and hoarding and purging.  Anxious to get on with it all and at the same time suppressing the emotions, the "how can he possibly be so big already?" in favor of getting by, getting through. 

The kids are off the wall, smelling the scent of change in the air, senstitive like canaries in a coal mine to the first whiffs of stress and tension and anxiety.  And their stress and activity and neediness double back on you at the same exact moment you're thinking you could make it through if you could only find a brief moment of quiet, a tiny square of space where no one was wanting or needing or pressing in.  Then, as they're grabbing, pushing, running by you find yourself yelling, adding your own foot-stomping, finger-pointing, tantrum to the mix.  Oh, please tell me I'm not the only one.

The following is a poem I wrote one week this summer, when I found myself close to the edge.  Thankfully I had a babysitter coming that morning and I was able to send myself off into a little corner of God's beautiful creation for a much needed time out.  This poem plays with a line that caught my attention while we were reading Little House in the Big Woods; it comes in a scene where Pa is getting his heavy metal traps ready for hunting season.


"There were small traps and middle-sized traps
and great bear traps with teeth in their jaws that
Pa said would break a man's leg if they shut onto it."
          Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

wound like a steel trap
ready to spring
loaded for bear
the weight of it could break a man's leg. 

Oh God, please help me,
for the sake of my children -
lest they somehow, playing too close,
trip the spring and
find themselves crushed
beneath the weight of
my anger,
my fear,
my pain. 
The weight of it could break a child.

What to do with this anger, God,
but to write it out, pray it out, breathe it out.

Help me, God, not to be afraid to
drop down,
sink down,
to the deeper places
where the pain and loss reside.
For there is where
I find You, again, with me. 

If this is where you are, where you have been, where you fear you'll be sometime soon, all I can say is, give yourself some grace.  Beneath it all is the ever-present, undergirding love of God.  Stop fighting, stop trying to be so good, so calm, so smooth and LET GO.  Go ahead and loose it, not your temper, but your endless need for control and perfection and the smoothness of things going RIGHT.  Break the rules and turn the TV in the middle of the day, get out the ice cream, the cookies, the Christmas music, whatever it takes.  Run outside, yell and dance and scream if you need to, find an old stick and bang it on the patio til your spent. 

Then go back in and hug your needy frightened children to you.  Apologize if you need to.  Tell them you know how it feels, tell them it's going to be ok even as you listen to and feel the One who holds you and tells you it's going to be ok.  Stop trying so hard to hold it all in, hold it all together.  No one wants that much perfection, that much goodness from one person.  All they really want is to know that you are with them in the middle of it all, just like the One who is with you in the middle of it all too.   

Not Dead yet

Our nine-month-old twins are sick and the batteries in the swing are dead.  No one’s going to get any sleep at this rate, so I volunteer to run out for batteries.  On the way I to the store I call a friend whose father was recently diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer.  She tells me her father believes he’s dying; all of his relatives, save one sister, have at one time or another had cancer. 
I called this friend because I wanted her to know I care, but also because parents with cancer are right up my alley.  My Mom is 4 years into remission from non-hodgkins lymphoma and I have several other close friends whose parents have died from cancer. 
Died.  Dead.  Like my swing batteries.  I think about it as I hang up, get out of the van and head toward Walmart to buy some more “life” for my machine. 
Cancer.  “His whole family,” she’d said.  I think about my own family as I cross the parking lot.  My family littered with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure.  I wonder how long it will be until I’m diagnosed with something?  Until John and I drop everything to head to the nearest teaching hospital hoping, praying to buy more life for our “machines”?
Crossing a dirty mound of mulch in the barren parking lot I suddenly feel the urge to run, jump, skip.  It occurs to me that I’m not dead, not dying.  I’m alive and the bleakness of my friend’s father’s diagnosis makes the joy of my own life incredibly clear.  My heart-pumping, blood flowing, running, jumping life surges within me and I wonder how I can live so unaware of it so much of the time? 
*   *   *   *   *   *
I remember a similar thing happening when I worked as a chaplain.  One of my first on-calls found me sitting with a woman and her deceased husband.  His body was covered with a sheet, his head exposed.  He was recently dead.  Enough so that his wife still caressed his hair, his face and kissed his lips as she talked about his life.  I had a difficult time staying in that room.  It was one of my first experiences with death.  I don’t remember being scared or weirded-out, but I do remember wondering, “How long do I have to sit here?  How soon can I leave without seeming impolite?” 
There’s so much in us that keeps us from wanting to linger with the dead.  It was a discipline for me to stay at that bedside.  But as I sat and took in the reality of the lifeless body I felt the same surge of joyful energy that I experienced in the parking lot the other night.  I sat there quietly as my whole being shouted, “I’m not dead!  I’m ALIVE!”  It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and running out shouting for joy.
*   *   *   *   *   *
I’m part of a young church.  A community of 20 and 30 somethings who live far from our extended families.  Gracefully, thankfully, death has been far from our little community.  I wonder though, if we aren’t missing something in our isolation from the dead and dying? 
Maybe we should simply be thankful to be spared this difficult detail of life for the time being.  But I wonder if the absence of death in our lives doesn’t somehow leave our lives a little less, well, alive.  Many of us spend most of our lives only partly alive.  Maybe a simple encounter with death is what’s needed to help us see that.  To help us embrace the gift of life. 
When our second twin, Baby B, was born there was a moment during which he didn’t breathe.  My husband told me later that he stood listening, waiting for the cry of life as Drs and nurses swarmed around the tiny body.  How long did he wait?  Minutes, seconds?  All the while wondering, is he dead or alive? 
The line between life and death is so frighteningly thin, like ice on a lake in early spring.  Only a fool would venture out onto the shifting, creaking mass.  But no one could blame you for feeling a surge of joy at having made it across if you do. 
*   *   *   *   *   *
I hurry on into the store.  Past the young man crouched down in his hoodie smoking outside the door.  Past the Mom with two kids, pausing at the soda dispenser.  I have to ask for help to find the batteries.  D batteries.  Big ones.  Expensive.  Our swing goes through them like crazy.    
I get my butt in gear and hurry home to the babies who’re not yet asleep.  Isaiah is ba-ba-baa-ing to beat the band in a voice that can be heard throughout the house.  The older kids are half-pajamad swarming around the living room dropping clothes and papers and toys as they pass.  My house is full of life, “teaming with life,” I like to joke. 
The only thing dead here is the swing and soon, thanks to the batteries, it’s running again.  It’s not dead yet and, thankfully, neither am I.   

The Difference a Few Boxes Made

Whew, we're exhausted! We finished up our cardboard collection for Project Share this Thursday and invited our neighbors to celebrate (read about how it all started).  We've been talking about having a neighborhood block party for over three years now and this project finally gave us the excuse we needed to invite everyone over.  All in all nine of our neighbors stopped by for hot dogs and home-brewed root beer floats.  Our "Soup Night" friends joined in and several neighbors who didn't come for dinner stopped by with last minute additions to our pile. 

We ended up keeping the older kids up until 9:00 helping to bring cardboard up our creaky basement stairs and heaving it onto a growing pile in our back room.  Sophia nearly wore herself out trying to out-pace me.  Solomon ran back and forth from the upstairs to the basement in his heavy black garden boots, laughing and exclaiming with his hands over his face as though it was Christmas morning. 

In the end we filled our back room at least half-way full of cardboard, a pretty good accomplishment if you ask me.  Here's a few pictures of our collection and a some thoughts about the difference this project made:
When I think about why we did this project this summer, with 4 kids six and under, I know it had a lot to do with a desire to get outside of ourselves and do something that might have a larger impact than we were capable of on our own.  Ever since the twins were born, and before that for several months, we'd been doing all we could to simply "get by," so this project was one way for us, for me, to reclaim a sense of connectedness to the world outside of and beyond our little family.  I also wanted to give our kids something to participate in that wasn't wholly centered around them and their enjoyment that would help them see that they can make a difference in the world in very simple and tangible ways.  When I see the look of pride on my daughter's face in the picture below I know, full room or not, that we accomplished what we set out to do.

Our neighborhood is situated between the beautiful and ever-expanding campus of Dickinson College and what locals refer to as "Carlum," a low-income area that is unfortunately the center of Carlisle's growing drug trade.  There have been drug related shootings and stabbings within a block of our house and having your car broken into is a regular occurrence.  Ours is one of the only houses on our block with young children and several of the people who came to our party were in their 80s.  

As a stay-at-home Mom, I know what it feels like to sit in your little house peering out the windows with your doors locked when the sirens are blaring and the police cordon off part of your block.  I know what it's like to call the police because people are fighting in front of your house and to see drug dealers counting money in a mini-van as you walk by with your swarm of strollers and bikes.  And I know that the way I feel in those times - helpless and vulnerable - is how my elderly neighbors feel as well.  So I'm thankful that our little project brought some much-needed hope and light to our little corner of what can sometimes feel like a battered and weary world. 

Our elderly neighbors made their way into our pot-holed backyard, canes in hand, to celebrate and I could see their eyes brighten with hope as they caught sight of all the kids in our yard.  One neighbor suggested that we should've called the newspaper and when I asked why she replied, "We get so much bad news all the time, we need to hear about the good things that're happening too."  In my mind, I looked at our little gathering and thought, "Good news, really?  It's so small."  But for her, it was enough.  

The same neighbor left us an envelope with the following note and a twenty dollar bill:

"Dear Friends! That was such a nice project you took on to help "Project Share." They need all the help they can get.  I'd like you all to go to McDonalds and get and ice cream on me.  Love ya."

Here we are getting ready to say good-bye to our collection.  I'm really proud of my kids and all the work they put into this and I'm grateful for my husband too who put up with lugging all of this into and out of the basement and stayed out too late on multiple occasions getting the word out to our neighbors. 

So that's it, friends.  Thanks so much to everyone who helped, encouraged, donated and believed in our little project.  It meant more than you could've possibly imagined.  Now . . . what's next??

Enjoy! (Tales of Chaplaincy, Waitressing and Motherhood)

After graduate school I worked for a year as a waitress at the Olive Garden.  Dressed in black pants and a pressed white shirt with requisite greasy necktie, I carried heavy trays of dishes to my waiting tables, taking care to place each meal with precision before its corresponding diner.  I liked waitressing in the same way I like online arcade games like Big Money and Bejeweled.  It was, once you knew the menu and wine list, fairly mindless work. 
One of the easiest ways to increase your income as a waitress is to increase your speed, cycling as many diners through your allotted tables as possible during your given shift.  The litany at the Olive Garden went: orders, drinks, salad and bread, entrees, dessert, check and repeat.  Since we were limited to three "open" tables at a time, some servers I knew took things a bit further by slapping down the check and cashing the customer out as soon as the meal was served so they could pick up other tables.  With typical bawdy restaurant humor we jokingly referred to this practice as “pre-mature echeckulation.”
Every time I served a meal I ended my delivery with a cheerful, “Enjoy!”  I said it often and repeatedly without thinking until one day I noticed the phrase as it slipped from my lips, “Enjoy!”  From then on I heard it every time I said it, an open invitation. 
*  *   *   *   *   *  
After my stint as a waitress I worked as a Chaplain at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.  The job required considerably more mindfulness, though here too there was a litany to follow which, when paired with my own self-imposed pressure to increase productivity, kept the days moving along at a rapid clip. 
One morning in the midst of a conversation my supervisor, who was nearing retirement age, said something like, “Now that I’m getting older I find myself wanting to, trying to, savor life.” 
Savor.  The word sat there on the table between us like a tempting morsel, something invitingly heavy and rich.  I picked it up and bit into it, rolled it around in my head for weeks, months, years, savoring it, I suppose. 
Now I held in my hands, my heart, two invitations, “savor” and “enjoy,” that seemed utterly opposed to the way I'd learned to play the game of life.  These words offered a time-out in the midst of the litany of run, run faster, run harder, run until you don’t know where you came from and can’t recall where you’re going.
*   *   *   *   *   *
The litany has changed again, but the feelings haven’t.  Now I’m at home most days in a job that involves an endless list of coffee-fueled cleaning and carrying and ferrying of people and things, from dawn until dusk, then repeat.  There are days, of course, where it becomes a game, where I make it a game in order to survive.  Days that I push my children through with the efficiency I learned as a waitress, the productivity I learned from my time working in the medical system. 
Still, everywhere I go, people call out, “Enjoy it, it’ll be over before you know it.” and “It goes by so fast!”  These are usually passing strangers, grayed and bent with age, looking longingly, hungrily at my bouncing, bopping, hopping children as we pass on the sidewalk or in the aisle of a store.  Their carts hold the humble needs of a household of one while I struggle to push a veritable Big Mac filled with as much food as we can afford.
When my oldest was an infant these comments annoyed me to no end.  Those were days that I struggled, seeing no future but only a ceaseless unsavory present.  Like the waitress waiting for her big break and the chaplain struggling to believe that offering presence in the present was enough, I pushed through my days barely daring to pause for fear of what I would find. 
I get it now or, I should say, I get it more than I did then.  Or maybe it’s more that I hear a voice in my own heart echoing that of those around me, “Enjoy!” and “Savor.”    
*   *   *   *   *   *
These are the last days of summer, the heavy days, slow and fast at the same time, the fleeting ones.  These are the days before my oldest is off to first grade and my preschooler will be gone three mornings a week.  The days before the twins will be really walking, then running, in opposite directions from each other.  These are the days before whatever comes next, be it welcome or not.  These moments that come and go with the slamming of the screen door.  These are the days to savor, to enjoy. 

Ah, God, still our souls, awaken our senses to these days.  Help us to sit down, sink down into them in all of their blessing and struggle, for this day, these days, are the days that the Lord has made. 

The Blessing: On the Eve of Your First Birthdays

Walking out onto the dock, I feel it welling up around me.  It’s not the first time I’ve felt it. 
It’s the last day of our summer vacation at the bay and I’m distracting the kids while my parents and husband load up all our gear.  The big gate’s packed away and there’s no safe “pen” for the twins anymore, so I’ve loaded them into the double jogging stroller and am walking them around the yard in wide circles.  The morning’s cool and fresh with dappled sunlight casting moving shadows on the ground as tree leaves tremble in a gentle breeze. 
I call the older kids for one last walk on the dock that extends far out into our little piece of the bay.  The land all around is flat and open with a gentle slope leading from house to shore.  We march down in a grand procession – me leading with the stroller and the older two following behind in the wiggly, bouncy dance that’s passed for walking ever since we arrived a week ago. 
Just as we step out onto the dock, I feel it.  It lasts only a moment and feels like space falling open around me, a heavy fruit falling from the tree.  All I can say is that in that moment I can feel the blessing of my children rising up around me.  I feel the blessing of this tiny parade, me the momma duck with her brood waddling along behind.
It’s so clear to me in that moment – the blessing that’s there whether I choose to receive it or not. 
*   *   *   *   *   *
I wasn’t ready for a third pregnancy, in fact I was quite sure I had miscarried by the time we got around to scheduling the first ultrasound.  But there they were, two hearts beating side by side, tiny legs and arms already forming.  Baby A and Baby B. 
We struggled to absorb the information.  We drove around in circles for an hour doing the math – multiplying every part of our lives by two more.  The surrealism and the worry of how we would do it was overshadowed by the fact that I didn’t want twins.  I didn’t want to be a mother of four, didn’t want to make room in my already full life.
I told my employer in a pile of tears. I let John tell our friends, I wasn’t ready to.  When I saw some at the store a few weeks later I couldn’t talk about it without crying. 
People are quick to label most pregnancies a blessing and to name God’s hand in the matter.  But it’s taken me awhile to come around.  Months into it all I tell my spiritual director, “This is not the blessing I would have chosen.”  I think of the writing, teaching, graduate school, my job at the church, the training program in spiritual direction, all the things I had in mind for myself. 
There are blessings that feel at first blush like dying.  Blessings that take us through the shadow of grief and loss before making their light known.  I’m so thankful for the friends who listened without judging as I passed through this shadow. 
*   *   *   *   *   *
Standing on the dock, I wonder again at this blessing that’s dropped unexpectedly into my lap, my life.  For some reason Leah from the book of Genesis comes to mind, the spinster sister who’s given in marriage to Jacob by her father’s sleight-of-hand. Leah longs for Jacob’s love, but he only has eyes for her sister Rachel. Leah doesn’t receive the blessing she would've chosen and it takes her years to come to terms with it. 
At first the children God gives her seem like poor consolation for the blessing she wants so dearly.  It’s not clear how many years pass, but the names she gives each son reflect her journey as each birth moves her from hope, to despair, to one last bit of hope.  For her, the mourning process is long and she sees the children only as a means to that which she cannot have – Jacob’s love.  Finally, with the birth of her fourth son, she turns a corner saying, “This time I will praise the Lord.” 
I wonder when it happened for her.  When were her eyes opened to the blessing that rose up all around her?  Maybe it was watching those boys running in from the fields or listening to their heavy breathing as they lay sprawled all around her in the quiet of the night.  Leah moves from mourning a loss to seeing, feeling, accepting the blessing she’s given and her response is to “praise the Lord.”
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There’s a scene in the movie, Stranger than Fiction, where Will Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, is given a plate of warm cookies by the girl he’s beginning to fall in love with, Ana.  Harold argues with Ana, refusing the cookies, though they're warm and gooey, fresh out of the oven.  Harold explains that he doesn’t like cookies and further conversation reveals that Harold has never had a homemade cookie.  
Ana refuses to take no for an answer and slides the plate in front of him despite his protests.  Harold eats, at first with caution, then with growing enjoyment.  After he finishes Ana asks, “You like them?” to which he replies, “I do . . . thank you for forcing me to eat them.” 
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“This is not the blessing I would have chosen.”  I can see now how large the “I” in that statement looms, the “I” who chooses, the “I" who knows best without having tasted, without daring to imagine something beyond what's familiar and known.  Over time, over conversation, the prayer continues and grows in wisdom, “This is not the blessing I would have chosen.  But who’s to say that I would’ve chosen best?  And, it is a blessing none-the-less.  Please, God, help me to receive it.”
These babies are my cookies and God has placed them on the table before me. “Sit down, now,” God says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."  And I do like them, I love them in fact, and I can say nothing more, but “Thank you, and thank you, and thank you.”

Baskets of Leftovers

I'm continuing a series of short pieces on abundance (this is the fourth, you can find other posts in this series here: Scarcity and Abundance).     

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After all of this, I come downstairs one Sunday morning and am greeted again by the same pile of leftover baby food that sits on the floor in the corner of our dining room day after day – only this time I finally see it for what it is. 
Every day, three times or more, I gather up the large pile of leftovers that accumulates beneath the twins’ high chairs.  Smashed peas that bear the prints of pudgy fingers.  Canned green beans that missed a mouth and tumbled from fist, to lap, to floor in a flurry of consumption.  Crushed cereal pieces, bits of banana and pears.  Eleven-month-olds eat with abandon, not worrying if there will be enough, so much so that the more you give them, the more they waste. 

Three times a day I sweep up this pile.  It’s bigger than even I can believe.  My husband and I marvel at it and joke about renting our neighbor’s dog to walk-through and eat up the scraps each night.  But until today I’ve not been able to see it.  Today is when it hits me.  The scales fall from my eyes and I smile in recognition and wonder how long God has been holding his breath, suppressing a giggle, waiting for me to get this cosmic joke. 

Every day I’m gathering up baskets of leftovers.  Every day.  

Mark 8 tells the story of Jesus feeding the four thousand with seven loaves of bread.  Just after this the disciples get into a boat with Jesus and we're told that, "they had forgotten to bring bread with them, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat."  Later, the worried disciple sum up their view of the situation saying, "We have no bread."  These are the same people who've just seen Jesus feed four thousand people with seven loaves and gathered up seven baskets of leftovers.  They go from swimming in a sea of bread, to drifting anxiously in a sea of fear and doubt and worry.
Isn’t this the way it goes? Every day Jesus is feeding the four thousand, the widow, the orphan and the man who's out of work and his family too and we, his people, are picking up the leftovers.  Yet all the while we grumble among ourselves like the disciples in the boat who look at the one loaf they do have and say, “We have no bread.” 
How would our world change if we really believed and lived the truth of the kingdom of God where abundance is the norm?  I think of the surprised smiles on the porch as we watch the cardboard being unloaded.  The thrill of half-price chicken, of partaking in a meal that’s pure gift.  The shouts of exclamation in the garden, “Any time we get hungry, we can come and eat.”  Would we really have time to fight over resources if we were busy gathering up the harvest that comes and comes and continues to come if only we have eyes to see it? 
I am so prone to hoarding, so firmly do I believe the lie of scarcity.  Oh, God, my faith is but a tiny mustard seed.  But here it is, take it, because with you less is more and, small as it is, it’s enough. 
Ok, so this is more than a day's worth.  What can I say? It was a busy weekend!

Dinner for Six

This past month I had the opportunity to write a post for my friend Matt Tuckey's blog, Y Thoughts.  Matt is a good friend and the Associate Executive Director of our local YMCA.  You can start reading the post here, then click on the link to continue reading on Matt's blog.  While your there, read around and leave a few comments.  Matt writes thoughtful pieces on the intersections between faith and culture and how the many decisions we all make on a daily basis effect both our social and individual well-being. 

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It started in a moment of frustration as so many things do when I find myself home alone with four young children during the “witching hour” of 4 to 5 pm.  I was buzzing around the house tossing cereal in front of the twins in their highchairs and ferrying snacks to the older two who were camped-out in front of the TV while also trying to make dinner. 

Chop, chop, chop, . . . scrape go onions into the pan.  Grab another handful of cheerios for the babies.  Turn, and chop, chop, chop, . . . scrape go carrots.  Then the call from the front room, “Can we have some more snack . . . and some juice, please?” 

Click here to visit Matt's blog and read the rest of this post: Y Thoughts.

Here's what the kids made:

Solomon made "Dinosaur Tracks"

Sophia's "Princess and the Pea Salad"